In 2013 Ambai Bujurga, Kara Block, was selected to be one of 2100 villages which were to benefit from the Ram Manohar Lohia Samagra Gram Vikas Yojana in Uttar Pradesh. In this interview VV-PACS Community Correspondent Mahesh Kumar speaks of how he highlighted a community's demand for the implementation of promised infrastructure. With his first ever Impact Mahesh's intervention helped get a gravel road built, which directly benefitted 500 people from Ambai Bujurga and it's neighbouring village.
The Ram Manohar Lohia Samagra Gram Vikas Yojana (Village Development Scheme) prioritizes the listed village for provision of infrastructure like electricity, water, drainage and sanitation as well as houses for the impoverished, among other benefits. Himself a resident of Ambai Bujurga, Mahesh Kumar had made an issue video in July 2013 about how his community suffered the strain of inadequate infrastructure.
In Ambai Bujurga over 200 people are from the Dalit community and for 20 years these citizens were forced to fight the trudge over a treacherous track. There had been deaths and awkward accidents due to the lack of a proper road. Despite several appeals to several Village Heads, no aid was ever extended to them.
"This absence of this road was not only a lack of basic infrastructure but had also become a health hazard and safety concern for us residents. So I decided to use the camera to unite our community to claim for change."
Mahesh conducted an informal meeting with the residents of his own and the neighbouring village which was also affected by the pathetic road. "Up to 500 people from the two villages had been in distress. In our meeting, I told them how I could try and create change by making a video, but that their support was crucial. They were initially skeptical, but once I started filming interviews, I showed them the footage on the camera. When they themselves saw the conviction in their voices, they started having more faith in me."
They decided to approach the Village Head. Mahesh was accompanied by 10 other members of his community. The community demanded not only basic infrastructural elements but also the safety of their children, friends and family. When the Pradhan (Village Head) saw the footage and how involved all the people were in staking their claim, he was very moved. They submitted a written application to him as well. Their village had recently been included in the Ram Manohar Lohiya Scheme, and the Pradhan promised to ensure that this road was sanctioned to be built on a priority basis.
"The community's presence really boosted my confidence. They helped me keep enquiring and ensuring follow up by the Pradhan on this. Within 15 days of meeting the Pradhan, the bricks to build the road were laid; within 2 months over 500 meters of damaged road was repaired, as were the larger lanes in the villages. Finally, two months after I had highlighted this issue, the road was completed in September 2013.”
Having faced discrimination for most of his life, Mahesh was determined to aid his community to demand their rights. As he grew older, he began to critically examine the absurdity of the culture of caste discrimination. "With this Impact, my self confidence, and the community's confidence in me have both risen. Today, my aunt and cousins and sister help me film my issue videos. Now, my focus is to not only highlight the community's issues, but to also have better screenings for them, where I can show them how truly powerful their testimonies are."
About the Partnership: The Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS) Programme and Video Volunteers have come together to create the Community Correspondents Network. The videos generated by the network will be able to highlight voices from the margins, providing skills to social communicators to provide advocacy tools to community based organizations.
Interview compiled by Radhika.
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